Brief #55—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
: On April 21, 2010, Facebook launched Version 1.0 of the Graph API on its platform. This version remained in use on Facebook until it was closed on April 30, 2015. The Facebook Graph API worked at the application developer level which allowed third – party app developers “Extended Permissions” to a users personal data in order to build and tailor apps that may be of interest to users. Facebook subsequently entered into data sharing partnerships with as many as sixty companies including Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, Samsung, Huawei and a host of other companies. These agreements allowed the companies to harvest Facebook users personal data, by using the Graph API tool, and to use that info to integrate popular Facebook features on their hardware devices and own websites. Facebook later admitted in April 2018 that four Chinese companies were among the companies that they had entered data sharing partnership agreements. As of August 2018, Graph API 3.1 is the latest version available on Facebook. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis: When the Graph API was first introduced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “We are building a web where the default is social.” The use of Graph API Version 1.0 on Facebook as a developer tool has been highly controversial. One feature included in this version was its “Extended Permissions.” This allowed any third – party developer access to more than just the info of an original user. Since the Graph API categorized the characteristics of connected and multiple users into searchable data sets (hometown, games, religion, work history, relationships, etc.), a search of those data sets through the originating user would include all of their connections and their own personal data even though those connections did not consent or give access to the developer.

This has been the root of Facebook’s problem with data sharing and privacy. There does not seem to be a general interest in user privacy at the company despite Zuckerberg and Facebook’s claims to the contrary. The actions of Facebook have been to slowly move the needle towards the ease of sharing data and info and then to backtrack only when there is public outrage. The Graph API is evidence that the default of gathering info on anyone at anytime is preferable over keeping unwanted intruders at the door. And the data sharing agreements with the nearly sixty companies, including a foreign company with close ties to the Chinese government, shows that Facebook simply cannot comprehend the concept of data privacy.

If Mark Zuckerberg’s personal tendency for more “social experiences” and “sharing” does not align with the American public’s demand for more privacy and control over personal data, then maybe the time has come for Zuckerberg to relinquish control over Facebook and have the company run by a CEO who is more attune to what the public wants in terms of their social and digital media experiences. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact

Photo by unsplash-logoTim Bennett

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